Campus Life

MIT Sexual Assault Awareness Week

Events seek to raise awareness of and discussion about sexual violence

Editor’s Note: Readers are advised that this article contains discussion of the circumstances of sexual assault.

I had been brainwashed. I believed that I didn’t deserve the love I was receiving, that my existence in the world was solely to please this man and that I could never fully do it because I was so flawed. I was uncaring, selfish, stupid and a slut who would screw any boy that looked at me. I was told this every day for months.

This excerpt from Saturday Night @ MIT, a blog for MIT students to share their experiences with sexual assault, is one of many stories about the pain that can follow sexual abuse.

This week, the Violence Prevention and Response Team (VPR) at MIT Medical is hosting Sexual Assault Awareness Week (SAAW). VPR will be hosting a variety of events, including the MIT Clothesline Project, a movie night, and Take Back the Night.

Take Back the Night was a movement created in 1978 for women to express themselves and share their stories of survival. MIT’s version of the event will have members of the MIT community congregate in Lobby 10 on Thursday, April 14, from 7–9 p.m. to share their stories about sexual violence. Kelley M. Adams, a member of the VPR team, said the event would be “very organic. It will be a lot of quiet time to ensure that we create a safe space for people to discuss this sensitive issue.”

The Clothesline Project is a more recent national movement to confront sexual assault. Started in Cape Cod, Mass., as a way for people to express their emotions about violence against women, the Clothesline Project uses art to help survivors and people who know survivors pour their experiences with sexual violence onto a blank canvas. This year, MIT is hosting six “Clothesline parties” at different locations as a catalyst for conversation about and emotional release from issues surrounding sexual violence. Though four of the Clothesline parties have already happened, there will be two more parties tonight at Westgate and McCormick from 8–10 p.m.

The message behind these and the other events during MIT’s SAAW is to increase conversation about sexual violence and its prevalence in the community against both sexes. Hearing people open up about their experiences can help others feel more comfortable reaching out to helpful resources.

In addition to SAAW, VPR runs a variety of programs throughout the year to help students and faculty confront sexual violence directly. Using a “survivor-centered model,” VPR operates in a consequence-free zone. Instances of sexual assault that are shared with VPR are not reported. Instead, VPR helps to connect victims to the Mental Health and Counseling Service, accompany them to the hospital, help them contact the police, or refer them to the Committee on Discipline. A resource for students, VPR helps to foster interaction between those affected by sexual violence and people who can help.

Since April 4, VPR has been running a 24/7 hotline that members of the MIT community can dial if they face any problems associated with sexual violence. Adams and VPR Program Manager Duane de Four man the hotline, which is available at 617-253-2300.

VPR also conducts a freshman orientation training program. In addition, VPR does significant advocacy work thanks to a grant from the Department of Justice. De Four also tailors programs to train students about gender and masculinity, bystander intervention, and sexual violence. The training program was created to help people recognize their role in ensuring a safe environment for everyone. There is no dearth of resources at MIT for members of the community affected by sexual violence.

Another helpful resource is the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC). BARCC’s website says that the organization provides “free, confidential services to survivors, their friends and families, and professionals ages 12 and older.” Resources for survivors include medical, legal, and counseling services, including both individual and group counseling. BARCC has a 24-hour hotline at 800-841-8371 and offices in Boston and Cambridge.

Throughout this week, these events will be opportunities for members of the MIT community to increase their awareness of sexual assault. With more communication, the hope is that people will become more aware that sexual assault can happen to anybody and that resources are available. While the common perception of sexual assault is an attacker jumping out of the bushes at night, the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by someone who knows the victim personally. As one student posted on Saturday Night @ MIT, “I hope telling my story can do something for someone out there. You’re not alone, and it’s not your fault.”